By Jeff Amy
MERIDIAN, Miss. | Call them the unrecovered — a handful of states where job markets, nine years later, are still struggling back to where they were before the recession.
That’s true in Mississippi, where job numbers and the overall size of the economy remain below 2008 levels. Unlike states that have long since sprinted ahead, Mississippi is struggling with slow economic growth and slipping population in a place that’s rarely at peak economic health.
Miguel Brown, despite family ties to his hometown near the Alabama border, is working on oil rigs off the shore of Texas, chasing higher wages.
“It’s rough,” said the 49-year-old Brown. “There’s not a whole lot of jobs in Meridian, especially that pay anything.”
Not only Mississippi, but also Alabama, Michigan, New Mexico, and West Virginia are still short of pre-recession job levels by multiple measures. That contrasts with states including Colorado, North Dakota, Texas and Utah, where employment numbers have soared. Nationwide, job numbers surpassed pre-recession peaks in the middle of 2014, about the same time Mississippi was saddled with the nation’s highest unemployment rate.
Emilia Istrate, who produces a yearly report on how local economies are faring for the National Association of Counties, said the recovery has been widespread but “uneven.”
“It explains why so many Americans don’t feel the national economic numbers. It’s because they live in one of these places that is still in recovery or struggling,” Istrate said.
Growth has long lagged in Mississippi, and jobless rates are high even in good times. The unemployment rate fell to 5 percent in March, the lowest since the U.S. Labor Department began the current system of measurement in 1976. But at the same time that the Magnolia State’s unemployment rate was at a record low, it tied for the ninth highest among the states.
Mississippi suffers from a cluster of ills that make it an economic laggard. Only 53 percent of Mississippi adults were working in 2016, the second lowest share of any state. Mississippi’s economy depends on slow-growth sectors, including government employment. While nearly 30 percent of Americans older than 25 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 21 percent of Mississippians do.
The size of Mississippi’s economy was smaller in 2016 than it was in 2008, and the state’s population has fallen in the last two years.